Concerns with National Human Rights Commission

October 11, 2018
9 months

What is the issue?

  • The Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill, 2018 was recently introduced in the Lok Sabha. Click here to Know more
  • Also, with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) marking its 25th anniversary this year, it is important to assess its role.

What is NHRC?

  • In 1993, the UN General Assembly adopted the Paris Principles on Human Rights.
  • This led to the constitution of national human rights institutions in almost every country.
  • India’s human rights agency, the NHRC draws its mandate from the Protection of Human Rights (PHR) Act 1993.
  • The NHRC has witnessed many controversies since its formation.

What is UNHRC's role in NHRC?

  • Every 5 years the NHRC has to undergo accreditation by an agency affiliated to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR).
  • The Commission’s compliance to the Paris Principles is ascertained in this process.
  • Better the grade, higher the benefits; if India gets an A-status, the NHRC has some privileges.
  • It can play a pivotal role in the decision-making processes of the UNHRC and other important international bodies.

Why is the amendment now?

  • In 2016, the accreditation agency deferred grading the NHRC.
  • This was because of the Commission’s poor track-record, especially, political interference in its working.
  • But the agency was satisfied with government’s commitment to introduce necessary changes to NHRC and thus granted the NHRC A-status in 2017.
  • The PHR (Amendment) Bill, 2018 is an outcome of this commitment, aiming to strengthen human rights institutions in India.
  • But the Bill falls short of its objectives on bringing out substantial changes to the NHRC.
  • It seems merely an attempt to save the country’s reputation in international human rights fora.

What are the concerns with NHRC?

  • Selection Committee - Tasked with appointing the chairperson and the members, the committee is dominated by the ruling party.
  • It consists of the PM, home minister, Leaders of the Opposition in both houses, the Speaker and the Deputy-Chairman.
  • There is thus a need to diversify the selection committee.
  • Process - The selection process is ambiguous as the criteria to assess candidates is not specified.
  • Very often, the government does not publicise vacancies in the Commission.
  • As a result, appointments to the NHRC have, for long, been fraught with disputes.
  • Judiciary - The strong representation of the judiciary in NHRC is said to create trustworthiness, especially in the eyes of the government.
  • It has also often been defended on the ground that NHRC's work is quasi-judicial.
  • However, this is pertinent to only one of the 10 functions of the NHRC, as described in the PHR Act.
  • Investigation - Police officials investigating for the NHRC are sent on deputation by their forces.
  • Their allegiance lies with their home cadre to which they return after their tenure at the Commission is over.
  • This conflict of interest restricts the scope of their work.
  • It's because they often are charged with investigating abuse of power by law enforcement personnel themselves.
  • Adding officials of the Intelligence Bureau to the mix may not give desired results as
  1. they are not answerable to anyone
  2. there is no parliamentary oversight on their functioning
  3. they do not owe financial accountability to the Comptroller and Auditor General
  4. they have often been accused of human rights violations themselves
  • The NHRC does have powers to conduct its own investigation when the Centre or state government do not respond within the stipulated time.
  • However, the Commission has rarely used this power.
  • Besides these, there is long pendency of the Commission’s requests for additional funds.

What could be done?

  • The government must take steps to ensure greater transparency in the selection process.
  • The much-needed diversification could be realised through the inclusion of civil society members.
  • Academicians with proven track record in the improvement of human rights can also be roped in.
  • The NHRC could certainly benefit from the grass roots level experience and widespread community outreach.
  • Also, the NHRC urgently requires officers of its own to carry out independent investigations. The government should provide resources for this.


Source: The Hindu

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